Relatives of Tawfiq al-Aga, who was killed in Israeli shelling, mourn during his funeral in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. (Reuters)
Geneva, July 23 (Reuters): The UN today launched an international inquiry into human rights violations and crimes that may have been committed by Israel during its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The UN Human Rights Council condemned the Israeli assault which it said had involved “disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks”, including aerial bombing of civilian areas, collective punishment, and the killing of more than 650 Palestinians.
At the end of an emergency session, the 47-member forum adopted a resolution presented by Palestinians by a vote of 29 states in favour, 1 against (the US) with 17 abstentions (including all nine EU members).
“We came here to try to achieve together with you at least minimum justice for children who are being dismembered, for women whose bodies are lying in the streets, to find some justice for those who are being exterminated,” said Ibrahim Khraishi, ambassador of the Palestinian observer mission to the UN in Geneva.
Israel and its ally US rejected the probe, calling it one-sided and counterproductive amid efforts to clinch a ceasefire. Israel has observer status at the talks. Israel ambassador Eviator Manor, in remarks before the vote, told the forum: “Why does this Council believe that naming and shaming Israel will get it anywhere?
“Throughout the entire escalation of events, Israel has always acted with maximum restraint, fully committed to international law in general and the laws of armed conflict.”
Israel had established its own special commission of inquiry “with a scope beyond what is required under international and criminal law”, Manor said.
UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay said that Israel may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its offensive in Gaza that began on July 8.
She also condemned the firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian militants into Israel, saying such acts also constitute breaches of international law. Pillay, citing cases Israeli air strikes and shelling hitting houses and hospitals in the crowded coastal enclave, said: “These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.
“Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated,” she said. Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge, said that any warning by Israel to Gaza residents ahead of strikes must be “clear, credible and allow sufficient time for people to react”.
Gaza fighting continued to rage today, displacing thousands more Palestinians in the battered territory as US secretary of state John Kerry said indirect truce talks between Israel and Hamas had made some progress.